By: Esther Rubio-Sheffrey
If you have had the pleasure of visiting Italy, or dining with an Italian family, you know that among the many things Italians do well, eating is one of them. Eating is an experience; there are courses; there is no rush; and you eat, eat, eat until your heart and stomach are both content.
Mangia Mangia is San Diegoâ€™s first gourmet Italian food truck. Owner and Chef Marko Pavlinovic says, â€œThe literal translation means, eat, eat, but for Italians it is a way of living! Everything is mangia mangia, from the Berlusconi government to the food.â€
Born and raised in Milan by Croatian parents who immigrated to Italy in the 1970â€™s, Pavlinovic is a Croatian-Italian chasing the American Dream. He speaks English with an Italian accent that is peppered with a few Italian words like â€œciaoâ€ and â€œgratize.â€ The minute you order, he makes you feel at ease with his friendliness, and you would not know that his truck schedule and daily food preparations keep him busy from 5 a.m. to midnight each day.
â€œI became what Americans call a workaholic, but I love what I do. I believe in it, and I am giving everything that I possess to making Mangia Mangia successful,â€ Pavlinovic said, adding with a touch of humor, â€œSome people come here to become doctors and lawyers, but I came all the way from Italy to the U.S. to open a â€˜roach coachâ€™ â€“ how smart is that?â€
Given the food truck trend and the following he is building, it is very smart and it is paying off. He has been serving San Diegans since March, and unexpectedly one day, he received a call from the Cooking Channelâ€™s â€œEat Street,â€ a show that celebrates North America’s tastiest, messiest and most irresistible street food. â€œWhen I got the call I thought it was a friend messing with me, and hung up the phone,â€ he recalls. â€œEven when they called me back, I didnâ€™t believe it was true until the day of the shooting.â€
â€œI am different than other trucks because I am not a fusion mix or whatever – I am Italian! My inspiration for food comes from what an Italian classic meal should be,â€ he said. â€œSometimes for fun or special events, I will serve a bizarre Italian recipe like Grilled Bone Marrow over Saffron Risotto, Tempura Fried Frog Legs, Roman Tripe, or an Italian Lollipop [Tempura fried Meatballs on a stick].â€
Pavlinovicâ€™s goal is for Mangia Mangia to become a destination for friends and families, with more than one truck around town, and ultimately he wants Mangia Mangia to be known as a restaurant and not a truck. Like restaurants, he serves lunch and dinner, and whenever he can, he books two to three locations a day for his truck. One of his unique options is the prix fixe menu offered every Thursday night in conjunction with 57 Degrees Wine Shop in Mission Hills.
57 Degrees Wine Shop provides a comfortable setting for customers to purchase and drink various kinds of wine, but they do not serve food; so while you enjoy a bottle of your choice, Pavlinovic will serve you five courses at your table for $20/person(sample menus available online). It is a good way of tasting what Pavlinovic calls a slice of heaven.
Every food truck review up to this point has been about a different spin on a burger, sandwich or French fries. In choosing Mangia Mangia, the idea of having something different, like some sort of pasta dish was extremely enticing. However, upon arriving at the truck for lunch, we both ended up with sandwiches and the ever-popular side item of fries, but that is not to say that our lunch was ordinary.
Pavlinovicâ€™s biggest seller is his Chicken Parmigiana sandwich, and after tasting it, I can see why. It is true to its Italian roots. He starts with freshly baked Gibaldi’s Italian bread, which he purchases from Frank’s Bakery in Mission Hills. A layer of homemade marinara sauce with a good portion of garlic chunks is spread over the soft, chewy roll. He then adds the breaded chicken, tops it with fresh mozzarella and another layer of sauce, and the result is a simple and delicious sandwich with the right amount of gooeyness. It is very filling and well worth the $7 too.
While tempted by the Lobster Ravioli and the Broccoli and Sausage Lasagna, it was too hard to resist the Mangia Mangia Burger. It is a hefty beef patty boosted up with garlic onions and rosemary. Once grilled to perfection, it is topped with pancetta (salt-cured Italian bacon), melted gorgonzola, roasted red bell peppers, roasted tomatoes, and romaine lettuce. Too much to finish in one seating but too good to toss, this is a scrumptious burger, good both hot and cold, and a value at $7.
Both of these menu items had the option of a salad or fries as a side, and not to say that the steak cut fries were not good, but the sides were somewhat irrelevant because both main courses would have been just as good served on their own. To drink, Pavlinovic offers a variety of Italian San Pellegrino water flavors, and Coke in a glass bottle that is also imported from Italy, which, like its Mexican counterpart, is made with cane sugar.
â€œMangia Mangia appreciates all the great comments we have received in our early stage of business, and we are really thankful to our beautiful city that gives us sunny days for serving the finest clientele,â€ he adds.
Having enjoyed a filling lunch for under $20, I am definitely going to have to try the pasta, and will likely do so on a Thursday for his prix fixe dinner menu and a bottle or two of wine. Pavlinovic is extremely tech-savvy, even his phone comes equipped with an app. that emails you a signed copy of your credit card transaction. He constantly updates his Facebook and Twitter accounts, so finding the nearest location is very easy. Follow him @ mangiatruck, and tune into the Cooking Channel on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. to see him in action on â€œEat Street.â€